Ab exercises that work without hurting your back
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What's the best exercise for my stomach that won't hurt my back?
— Chris Durianski, Park Ridge, Ill.
No one exercise fits all, so you'll want to try a few to see what works best, says exercise physiologist Jason Fox.
A good place to start is a basic crunch. Lay flat on your back and, hands behind your head or across your chest, lift your upper body off the ground, hold for a second or two and relax.
"You don't come up all the way and that's what makes it different from a sit-up," says Fox of the highly rated Grant Health and Fitness Center in Columbus, Ohio. Just go slow — speed increases the risk of injury.
If you feel pain in your lower back or neck when you're doing floor crunches, try them on a stability ball. The ball conforms to the back's shape, providing more support, but it takes balance and practice. Some gyms also have an ab bench or ab crunch equipment with handles and back support.
All the up-and-down motion tweaking your back? Try the plank position, basically a static push-up position on your forearms. With feet shoulder width apart, tighten your abs and hold for 10 to 15 seconds, doing one or two reps. Gradually work up to two- or three-minute-long reps. Fox says to keep your back straight and be careful not to overdo it.
As with any exercise, a little soreness is OK. "If it's painful, that's when you want to move on," Fox says. If you're still worried you might hurt your back, hire a fitness trainer to check your form.